Operation Hubertus - Part Two

Soviet street fighters

Operation Hubertus – Ljudnikov's Last Stand in Stalingrad

By Wolf Höpper

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IV. The other side of the battlefield

How were Soviets placed? Vassilij Tschuikov was forced to move his army command post four times in seven weeks. Finally he took up a position in a tunnel system in the north behind the lines of 45th Rifle Division.

His Soviet units were not in much better shape than the Germans. His 95th Rife Division (Polkovnik Gorischny) was badly mauled, most of the remaining soldiers had to be assigned to neighbouring units, the 37th Guards Rifle Division (Polkovnik Schodulov) was disbanded and the survivors assigned to 118th Rifle Regiment of 138th Rifle Division (Polkovnik Ivan Iljitsch Ljudnikov). The later also received the rest of 308th Rifle Division (Polkovnik Gurtjev).

Another difficulty arose when the STAVKA (Soviet high command of Red Army) withdrew many batteries of the long-range artillery from the east side of the Volga to other parts of the front. This major defensive factor, which contributed so much to the “successful” defence of the last weeks, was weakened. Tschuikov also concluded that these movements, and the lessened barrages, would be recognised and utilised by the Germans to their advantage.
The most crucial difficulty for Tschuikov to overcome was that the shipment of supplies and reinforcements across the Volga, it had become more and more a battle of its own. Not only were the advancing Germans gaining further parts of the Volga bank daily, which enabled them to better coordinate their artillery and air attacks, but the weather itself turned against him. On 9 November the thermometer dropped to minus 18 degrees Celsius and the great river began to carry ice flows.
Soviet Infantry

The shipping would have normally been stopped, but nonetheless the boat crews and sailors still undertook trips across the dangerous water and supplied the remaining defenders with the much needed food, ammunition and reinforcements. Later a German soldier recognized the sound of the colliding, cracking ice flows as spooky and doom spelling. The death knell was rung, but for whom?

On average Tschuikovs soldiers had about 30 rounds per rifle and only received 55 grams of dry bread per day. Sometimes not even these scarce food rations were available.

15cm sIG33 infantry gun V. Before the Offensive

In the first nine days of November the Germans only undertook small, but nonetheless very vicious, local assaults. In one example the Germans attacked the main Volga crossing point and a company of the 347th Rifle Regiment, only consisting of nine soldiers, dug-in 200 meters before the Volga. When the Germans attacked, the Soviet commander, Leitenant Andrejev, collected his surviving men and counterattacked with sub-machine guns. They fought the Germans to a standstill allowing time for an arriving task force to help them hold the northern ferry point.

 These small islands of resistance were proving time and time again a true fortress of impenetrable strong points. Nonetheless the Germans maintained these attacks to keep up the pressure and not to give the defenders rest.

Another major disadvantage for the Germans lay in their dwindling artillery ammunition from 31 October. The assault troops support and the night disrupting bombardments could not be sustained at the levels they were conducted the previous weeks. Worsening was the situation with hand grenades and mortar ammunition. Paulus complained to the Army Group about this and recommended that the operation should be postponed until 15 November. The Army Group headquarters, under General von Sodenstern, considered this “a total time catastrophe”. The time schedule was not changed.

During the whole of 8 and 9 November Major Linden and his command staff spent planning the attack based on his recon tour. Since the orders from the higher command were changed several times during the last days, he conferred with von Seydlitz-Kurzbach and came up with a final plan, which was, again after several phone calls (including with Hitler), approved. During one of these phone calls, von Seydlitz-Kurzbach also assigns Sturmgeschütz abteilungen 244 and 245 (Assault Gun Battalions) from 79. and 71. Infanterie divisions and an additional two pioneer companies from Pionier Bataillon 635 to the attack.

His plans were laid down as following:

Pionier battalions 294, 50 (mot), 305 and 336, backed up by several battle groups, are to attack on 2500 meters broad 305. Infanteriedivision sector towards the fuel depot and into the gun factory.

Pionier battalions 162 and 389, in the combat sector of 389. Infanteriedivision, were to attack directly towards the Volga bank. All other neighbouring units, along the whole front of LI Armeekorps, were to undertake supporting attacks in their sectors, so that no enemy reserves could be moved toward the northern sector.

Von Seydlitz-Kurzbach
Factory fighting

These “mock attacks” were to be coordinated between LI Armeekorps and the responsible sector commanders seperatly.

Major Linden wanted the pioneers to blow holes into vital Soviet defence points, especially bunkers and fortified houses. The following battle groups would secure connecting screening lines to the attacking pioneers. He would then clear, with parts of both assault forces, the strong points and attack the next cornerstone until their goal, the Volga bank as a whole, was reached. Only specific, very dominating, points should be attacked directly, connecting front lines were to be bypassed.

Thereby he wanted to concentrate his scarce forces into narrow attack corridors to maximise the pioneers’ firepower. The bypassed units were to be constantly attacked by air, and the directly adjoining Soviet infantry units would be forced to mostly only defend their own lines. The result would be that small isolated pockets of resistance would remain, which could be mopped up bit by bit. 

The attack of the pioneers would be initiated by a massive air/artillery strike, this short lightning-like barrage would then move 50 meters forward to enable the storm pioneers to get out of their cover and into the positions of the still pinned, demoralized and probably dislodged Soviet defenders. Direct air support would only be flown on special request of the assault pioneers and against strong point targets.

After all the preparations and troop shifting, both sides were ready for the final act of this drama on the Volga.

Part Three: Day by Day account (live Dec 10)...

Last Updated On Wednesday, October 21, 2009 by Wayne at Battlefront